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Feds Aim Civil Rights Probe at Inglewood Police Department

Los Angeles Wave, News Report, Olu Alemoru Posted: Mar 19, 2009

Mayor Roosevelt Dorn has fully backed reforms instituted by Inglewood Police Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks in the wake of a federal probe into the department, as community figures weighed in with qualified support for the embattled police force.

Meanwhile, a private investigator working for the family of a man slain by officers said he planned to work very closely with government agents as his own investigation continues.

The moves follow a March 11 announcement by the U.S. Department of Justice that it would conduct an investigation into incidents that have resulted in a number of deadly shootings of unarmed suspects by Inglewood officers.

Among the incidents: the May 2008 shooting of Michael Byoune, 19, in a strip mall parking lot in the 3000 block of Manchester Boulevard; the July 2008 killing of postal worker Kevin Wicks, 38, at his North Hillcrest Boulevard apartment complex; and the slaying of a homeless man, 56-year-old Eddie Franco, who was shot and killed on Market Street last August.

A Justice Department spokeswoman described the investigation as a pattern or practice inquiry that is being handled by the agencys civil rights division in Washington. Seabrooks responded with a statement welcoming the probe, promising to fully cooperate with the investigation. Just as we have done with a comprehensive, independent, audit that we requested and is already under way by the Los Angeles County Office of Independent Review, she added.

Since November, all Inglewood Police officers have been undergoing what Seabrooks described as a customized 120-hour training program to strengthen tactical responses and improve decision-making in a range of situations, including incidents involving the use of force. According to her statement, 70 percent of the departments more than 191 officers have completed or are currently participating in that training.

In a regular briefing with local journalists two weeks ago, Seabrooks addressed the anticipated announcement of such an inquiry. I spoke to officials in the Justice Department last year, said Seabrooks. The federal government is clearly aware of the actions of the department, and have been for quite a while. What has been working in our favor is that we have been open and transparent about the things that have occurred and our actions in the aftermath.

In an interview with the Wave, Dorn was adamant that the probe was a positive development and said he was proud of the department. We welcome the Department of Justice investigation and I believe the chief is doing everything necessary to move the department in the right direction, he said. Those people who know anything about the city know that the community has confidence in the department. If they didnt, they wouldnt have voted for Measure IT to increase the sales tax to hire more officers.

Kevin Hackie, a private investigator working for Wicks family, revealed that he became aware early that the Justice Department was looking into the incidents. We carried out a detailed re-enactment of the crime a few days later and thats when I became aware of the federal investigation, said Hackie. I understand the department is engaged in remedial training, but I would like to state that doesnt mean they are bad officers just that changes need to be made. People have to understand that they risk their lives every day.

Adrianne Sears, chairwoman of the Inglewood Citizens Police Oversight Commission, echoed the positive tone. The commission welcomes the Justice Department to the city and we would like to assist in any way we can, she said. We are happy to hear about the new training taking place, but we believe it shouldnt take the place of the commissions role in the investigative process. [In fact], we need to be more of an active partner and our role formalized.

Sears added: Right now were only privy to externally generated citizen complaints, like with the independent review office with whom were in constant contact. However, we want to be involved when there are deaths while in custody and the use of deadly force. Thats what the community demanded after the Donovan Jackson case, in which a 16 year old was seen on videotape being beaten by officers.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson, president of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable, praised Seabrooks reforms but cautioned that the pressure needs to be kept on the department. I had a lengthy meeting with Chief Seabrooks two weeks ago, and we discussed the measures taking place, he said. There havent been any [similar] incidents since the shooting of that homeless man and it strikes me that the reforms are taking effect. I think theres been a sincere commitment at the highest level.

Unfortunately, This was a wake-up call and [it] has brought the city the worst kind of attention, Hutchinson said. Still as a precaution, Hutchinson added, We [the community] will keep a watchful eye to see there is no back-tracking.

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